Writing exercise: Write a scene/story about a person getting a tattoo.
I like the promise in this. I’ll need something to work on for NaNo this year (next month, yikes!), and this might be just the thing.
One eyebrow arched in skepticism. The rack of dull needles didn’t inspire confidence. Nor did the large, hairy man reassuring me of their safety.
“So, what, they don’t like the symbol, or-”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Rain. Rain led the local militia. She looked like she’d been kicked out of Marilyn Manson’s road crew. Twenty years ago. Her name was freaking Rain, and she says I’m ridiculous.
“It’s the ink mix,” Rain continued, brushing a dreadlock from her face. “Nobody with the tattoo has turned.” She lifted her shirt to expose a tight six pack marred by long, parallel scars. “They still try.”
“Either way,” the tattoo artist said, “you gotta have one before we let you cross the river. That’s the toll.” He brandished a tattoo machine, loaded with an old needle. A dark green liquid bubbled in the tube leading into the mechanism.
Rain smiled, but it’s the kind of smile a person reserves for some jerk who just shot himself in the foot. I sigh and drop my pack on the dusty floor.
“Fine,” I said. “But I draw it. Give me a pen.” I spend a few minutes carefully drawing out what I want. No way were they going to give me that weird pentagram thing they had on their bodies.
“What are you, Korean?” the man asked, squinting at the unfamiliar kanji lines.
“These eyes aren’t all smoke and mirror.”
“What’s this mean?”
“None of your business.”
He grunted and shrugged. Rain wandered from where she’d been lounging by the door and peered at my back.
“It’s Japanese, you gimp,” she muttered. “Musume.”
“What’s it mean?”
She slouched back against the door frame. “None of your business, from what I hear.”
The big guy etches the tattoo onto my back, behind the right shoulder. The needle whirs for the better part of an hour, tearing flesh and draining blood. I could almost feel the ink infusing my veins, and reflect on how I probably should have asked what they put in this junk. Every damn oasis had it’s own superstitions and shamans. I wince whenever the needle grates against my shoulder blade. Rain snorts every time.
My back was largely numb by the time he finished and bandaged up my new brand. He warned me not to scratch at it, then stepped outside to light up a cigarette. Rain tossed me my shirt.
“You must have something pretty valuable out there,” she said. “Not many people go into Texas anymore. Just lots of dead people in there.”
“And at least one live one.”
She looked me over, then nodded at the sword strapped to my backpack. “I wouldn’t go in there with just that. Stop by the store, they’ll have some guns you can get cheap.”
“What, the ink’s not enough?”
She scowled. “Like I said before, they still try. You won’t come back here all moaning and wanting me for my brains instead of my body, but you’re still a tasty morsel.”
Her shoulders jerked in amusement. “This is Thackerville. They only had one store even before the fucking apocalypse. Funny thing is, population’s actually gone up here.” She waved a hand out the door to the street. At midday, the road was crowded with people buying food at small vending booths. “All us refugees.”
I settled my backpack uncomfortably on my left arm, the sword shifting awkwardly on an unfamiliar side. I stepped out into the sunlight and looked down the south-bound road.
Rain gestured vaguely to the south. “Five or six miles, you’ll hit the river. Have a nice swim, we wrecked the bridge years ago.” Her expression softened, and I saw something like exhaustion pass over her eyes. “I hope you find her.”
“Thanks.” I bowed deeply, and she awkwardly returned the gesture. The big guy just watched, face twisted in confusion. I merely nodded to him, and he nodded back. Then I faced the long road south and started walking.